Many people focus on finding happiness. But just as those who try too hard to be cool are never cool, if you're always striving to be happy, you will never achieve happiness. What's the problem? Perhaps you're just trying too hard!
Happiness is just one of the range of human emotions, and as with feelings of anger, envy and fear, we only experience it fleetingly before it disappears again. Happiness is not something you can achieve; it's something you experience within yourself.
These days, people tend to confuse happiness with pleasure. So much marketing is aimed at achieving satisfaction - buy a new car and be happy, lose five kilos and be happy - but you can neither buy nor achieve happiness. It's something that exists (temporarily) almost as a side effect of other things going on in your life.
Pleasure can be wonderful, but it doesn't necessarily make you happy. It brings short term satisfaction and distracts us from negative emotions. But those who focus only on achieving materialistic goals are more likely to suffer anxiety, depression and unhappiness. Of course, it's also possible to seek pleasure through substance or alcohol abuse or extramarital affairs. While they may temporarily numb your pain, these damaging activities certainly won't bring you long term happiness.
We're living in a stay-positive, roses and sunshine culture. When bad stuff happens, society often expects us to make the best of it. We're told to look for the bright side before we've had time to come to terms with the bad news.
Always being positive doesn't equate to happiness. You need time to process sad, upsetting events. When your grandma dies, people might tell you to be positive about it because she had a good, long life. But there's no need to paste a smile on your face. It's OK to grieve.
Self-help gurus sometimes make you feel bad because you're not happy all the time. But continually being positive is dysfunctional and means you are probably suppressing your real emotions. Being unable to express your feelings can store up health problems for the future - it's better to rage or weep for a while. It's hard, but you'll get through it. You'll know when you're ready to come out from under your cloud and move on. Bach Flower Mix 65, for dejection, supports you through challenging times, helping you to be more attentive to life and restore your self-confidence.
Explicitly pursuing happiness can actually make you less happy. Real happiness can be measured how often we feel it rather than how happy we feel at a given moment. When people have experienced intense emotions of joy, whether by winning a gold medal or a lottery prize, these extremes seem to make it harder to feel pleasure in the small things that occur every day.
Happiness is what happens when we forget about ourselves and get involved in activities that challenge us. Whether you're raising a family, setting up a new business on a shoestring budget, or training for a marathon, you're in the zone, living in the moment. What you're doing might not be pleasurable at the time, but you're so wrapped up in your activities that gloomy thoughts and worries drift away.
None of the activities described above is invariably pleasant: they all make us struggle with high demands on our commitment, time and energy. Sometimes they make us angry or even despairing. Yet we look back misty-eyed at happy memories of times when we've challenged ourselves. But it's not becoming wealthy from the business you started, or successfully raising the perfect child, that makes you happy.
It's more about setting yourself high goals and attempting to become the person you dream of being, your ideal self. It doesn't even matter whether you succeed in those challenges or not. It's not the material result of your endeavours that makes you happy: it's being satisfied that you've done your best in trying to achieve your goal.
So when your only goal in life is to find happiness, you can't achieve it. We can only find happiness as a side effect of other things that are going on in our lives. The closer our activities are aligned with the image we have of our ideal self, the happier we feel.
Happiness occurs when we're busy pursuing our dreams. It's no use to go looking for it. However many goals you achieve in your life, you will still feel happy and unhappy in the same ratio: there will always be just one more thing needed to make you super-happy.
The best advice about being happier is to know who you are and imagine who you dream of being. Then get moving and make changes towards achieving your goal. It doesn't matter if you don't succeed: it's the action that counts. Just get on with living your life the best you can and be happy.
When you think about things that will make you happy, what are the images that come to mind? Wealth, beauty, a dream house, long holidays, a top of the range car? Happiness is not a constant and how happy we feel depends on the way we choose to live our lives.
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